The Good Life France's podcast

# 26 - Halloween in France

October 23, 2023 Janine Marsh & Olivier Jauffrit Season 2 Episode 26
# 26 - Halloween in France
The Good Life France's podcast
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The Good Life France's podcast
# 26 - Halloween in France
Oct 23, 2023 Season 2 Episode 26
Janine Marsh & Olivier Jauffrit

Ghosts, ghoulies and Halloween in France. In this episode we’ll talk about haunted castles – there are loads of them in France. 

Plus ghost stories - including the tale of a wooden leg that walks alone. And French Halloween habits – and yes France does celebrate Halloween but in its own unique way! 

This is a spooky, spine tingling but fun podcast with possibly the worst Halloween jokes ever!

Follow us:

Thanks for listening!

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Ghosts, ghoulies and Halloween in France. In this episode we’ll talk about haunted castles – there are loads of them in France. 

Plus ghost stories - including the tale of a wooden leg that walks alone. And French Halloween habits – and yes France does celebrate Halloween but in its own unique way! 

This is a spooky, spine tingling but fun podcast with possibly the worst Halloween jokes ever!

Follow us:

Thanks for listening!

Podcast 26 - Halloween in France

Janine: Bonjour and a big welcome to The Good Life France podcast. I’m Janine Marsh, born in the UK but I have had a home in France for nearly 20 years. I write about France full time for my website, and magazine - both called The Good Life France, and I’ve written 4 books about France – all in English. When I’m not working in my little converted pigsty, now a writing den, I’m mum to 4 naughty puppies, 9 cats who are all divas, a needy duck called Rocky and too many chicken pets – really too many, but I swap the eggs for wine at my local bar so they earn their keep! When not writing, looking after animals or travelling all over France - I love to chat to you about France with my podcast partner – Olivier Jauffrit.

Oli: Bonjour and bienvenue – yes I am Oli, short for Olivier. I have one cat – it’s enough for me. She’s British-born as I have lived in the UK for 20 years but when I move to Lyon, the foodie capital of France, with my family next year, she will have to learn French…. Because French cats don’t meow the same way obviously.

So – that’s us and now let’s get on to the topic of this episode! What will we be talking about today Janine?

Janine: Well as Halloween is coming up, I thought it would be good to talk about Halloween in France – how it’s celebrated, we’ll explore some haunted castles, talk ghost stories and find out about La Toussaint – a very French event held the day after Halloween…

Oli: oooooooooh la la!

Janine: So, this is a question I get asked a lot – does France celebrate Halloween? Well the answer is yes it is celebrated – though it may not be with quite as much vigour as say the US. I’m often reading that the French don’t celebrate it at all but that’s just not true. 

When I first bought my little French house in 2004, Halloween flew by without so much as a flutter here in the sticks. There were no kids trick or treating, no carved pumpkins on doorsteps and the shops didn’t make a big thing of it. If you were lucky you might get a few pumpkin shaped chocolates if you went to one of the bigger towns, but that was about it. Sure, in Paris it was a ‘thing’, there’s even a haunted manor house near the Gare du Nord that puts on a rather scary Halloween themed event. But here where I live, non, nothing.

But over the years, that’s all changed. Lots of shops decorate Halloween style – spiders webs are very popular. We even have trick or treating in my village. The kids don’t really wear costumes but Madame Bernadette does their face make up and they go round knocking on doors and collecting sweets. It’s a bit more restrained than in some countries.


One of my neighbours is really into it. The first time I saw his garden decorated for Halloween, I was just driving home and I caught site of a witch on a broom stick hanging up in the shed with pink and red lights swirling around. I pulled the car over to the side of the road to get a better look. Well I’ve never seen anything quite like it. There were lid swinging coffins in the front garden, skeletons popping up over the hedge as you walk past, smoke filled cauldrons, scary clowns pushing prams with Chucky style babbies in them, cackling witches – tastefully dressed, this is France after all - and ghostly things hanging and quivering in the trees. The man who lives there came out and said he encourages everyone to have a look around. Well two of my kids came to stay with us the week after so we took them to see his garden. There were loads of other people all wandering around enjoying the spooky set up, disco music was playing, the coffin lids were opening and shutting, the witches were cackling the smoke was billowing about like misty magical smog, the kids loved it. But the weird thing was, the family that lived there were sitting in their kitchen eating dinner watching us all which I found even spookier! 

Oli: Were there any pumpkins? 

Janine: Not a pumpkin in sight! 
 Oli: We’re not big on pumpkins for Halloween in France – or not as big as some countries are anyway. We prefer to eat them! 
 Janine: Me too! I’ve grown some whoppers this year, I might even win the village competition and be able to call myself the biggest pumpkin of the valleys! 

Oli: In France we are as much into the horror aspect of Halloween than the fun side of things. We like to do things like Zombie walks and zombie parties where everyone dresses up and wears make up, so we look like the living dead for fun! Every year in Paris there is an organised zombie walk – this year zombies have been asked to gather at the Place de la Republique for the walk to Place des Vosges on 21 October. It’s going to be quite a sight – the make up is usually very artistic! 

Janine: Blimey that could shock a few visitors if they don’t know it’s on and you walk into a whole bunch of slowly walking, moaning zombies! That’d scare the Bejeesus out of me! 

Oli: I’m dying to join in. 

Groaning sound
Janine: Want to hear a French Halloween joke? What do you get when you eat haunted French pancakes?

Oli: I don’t know – what do you get when you eat haunted French pancakes?

Janine: The crepes! 

Oli: More important to the French than Halloween is La Toussaint on 1 November, the day after Halloween, called All Saints Day in English. It’s a national holiday in France and it’s all about remembering friends and loved ones who are no longer with us. It’s traditional to place pots of brightly coloured chrysanthemums on graves in memory of the departed. 

Janine: When I first came to France I didn’t know about this tradition but at the end of October all the shops were filled with big pots of chrysanthemums in all these jewel-like colours. They were so lovely so I bought some for the house and some for my neighbours who were a bit horrified and explained the tradition. 

Oli: There are several legends about how the tradition started but it really goes back to the  first anniversary of the end of World War I.  The President at the time  Raymond Poincaré  and our Government asked all French people to put flowers in cemeteries, in memory of all the soldiers. Chrysanthemums were the best choice because of their late flowering and resistance to frost, over time it became a wider tradition associated with All Saints Day. 

Janine: I always take a pot to put on the tomb of a British soldier who died during WWI and his last resting place is in our local churchyard. I looked him up and it seems he was the last of his line so no family ever visit the grave so we take the flowers and remember him on that day. 

Oli: More than 25 million pots of chrysanthemums are bought for La Toussaint in France.

But now, lets talk about some of the famous ghosts of France, from regal apparitions in Versailles to the moans of the Green Lady in a grand château, come with us on a spine-tingling journey!

Creaking door sound

Oli: Our first stop is the majestic Château de Brissac, it’s not only the tallest castle in France – seven stories high – it is known as the ‘giant of the Loire Valley’, but it’s also said to be the most haunted castle in France. It has been in the same family since May 26 1502 and is still lived in.

Janine: I’ve been there a few times, gorgeous castle and they have the most amazing B&B – all 4-poster beds and tapestries and the Duke of Brissac who lives there pops into the town to pick up your breakfast croissants! 

Oli: Well, legend has it that a ghost called the Green Lady wanders the castle at night. She was murdered by her husband in the 1400s – before the Brissac family lived here.  Charlotte de Brézé was having an affair and her husband Jacques found out. He ran his sword through his wife and her lover and it is said that he pinned their souls to the castle walls. Now she roams the halls in a green dress, moaning in sorrow. If I were staying there, I'd definitely keep the lights on!"


Janine: Well I can honestly say that it never felt haunted to me. But I have stayed somewhere that really did feel spooky. And this is absolutely a true story. A couple of years ago I went to Annecy in the Haute Savoie region. It’s a stunningly beautiful town with winding cobbled streets, canals and of course the famous Lake Annecy. That lake is a mesmerising sight let me tell you. The water is turquoise, a bright aquamarine so clear you can see to the bottom. Around the lake are restaurants and hotels including the magnificent Abbaye de Talloires. And I was lucky enough to stay at the Abbey hotel. It’s magnificent. It was built several hundred years ago, but during the French Revolution it was pretty much destroyed. Legend has it that the huge abbey bells still lay at the bottom of the lake. It’s been a gorgeous hotel for a long time now – the artist Cezanne stayed here and the writer Mark Twain. 

Anyway when I was there I was chatting to the manageress about the history and she asked me if I’d like to see one of the special rooms. 

“Of course” I said.

So she took me to a room about five doors from mine.

She told me that this room which used to be the old priests’ room where they would pray alone, has not been redecorated since 1681. It is stunning. A real time warp and it’s a classified monument in its own right. The walls are lined with frescoes of the Apostles, the ceiling is covered with original paintings of angels and cherubs. It had an almost tangible air of tranquillity.

I told her I’d love to stay in this room and she told me that though the room is available for guests, they never let a woman stay here on her own. I was surprised because the beds looked comfy and there was an amazing feeling of peacefulness that you get from a really ancient room.

She told me the room has a special atmosphere, quiet and peaceful – but not for everyone. And as she finished saying it, the ancient window shutters that were hanging a little lopsidedly either side of the window overlooking the lake, swung shut with a loud bang. I nearly jumped out of my skin. It’s just the wind the manageress said. And she asked me if I liked the Apostle pictures on the walls. They are stunningly beautiful but they’re strange – all of them seem to be looking to the side or up or down except one which seemed to be looking straight at me and I stared into those eyes and the close door to the room blew open with a loud bang. 

I have to admit the hair on the back of my neck stood up. It’s just the wind the manageress said and we left the room with the shutters rattling. It was spooky. It did have an atmosphere but it also felt calm and peaceful and welcoming – and I slept like a baby that night in my room five doors down!

Oli:  I might have to stay there with my wife – I’m not sure she will want to but I would love that! … Right let’s head to Brittany now and the Chateau de Combourg, a medieval castle where it is said that the ghost of the Count of Combourg walks the stairs. Well not all of him – just his wooden leg!  They say you can hear it banging on the stairs, more than 300 years after he died! 

Sound of knocking 

Janine: I feel another joke coming on – knock knock.

Oli: Who’s there?

Janine: The count of Combourg’s wooden leg. 

Groaning sound

Oli: I am going to ignore that. 

Janine: Here’s another ghostly animal story. Again from Haute Savoie this time at the Château de Sallenôves which has a walled up room in it they call the ‘Devil’s room’ which is asking for trouble really isn’t it. They say that from this room can he heard the sound of stamping feet, powerful hooves striking the ground and the sound of rage, a roaring sound – but it’s not the devil doing it. It’s a horse. A ghost horse who haunts the room trying to get out and only stops his noise at the stroke of midnight. It’s said the horse was carrying his mistress when an amorous lord tried to kidnap her and legend has it that nature saved her by creating a flood which carried her away and the poor horse was left behind and was offered a room in the castle…

Oli: Now we go to the Palace of Versailles, the bling bling - that’s what we French call a bit of glitzy glamour – the bling bling home of Louis XIV and his descendant. This place is said to be inhabited by several phantoms. There is a famous story from the start of the 20th century of two English ladies who met with the ghost of Marie-Antoinette in the gardens of the Petit Trianon. It was August 10, 1901. One of the ladies was a headmistress, the other her assistant. It was a hot day and they finished visiting the main palace rooms and decided to visit the Trianon palace in the gardens. They got a bit lost and saw two men dressed in green coats and three cornered hats carrying shovels and asked for directions. Then they saw a man sitting near a Chinese-style kiosk and passed another man who gave them directions. At the Trianon they saw a woman wearing a white hat and an old fashioned dress. And they had an overwhelming feeling of distress, and left. The women were convinced that they had met ghosts including Marie-Antoinette and wrote a book about it. It was a sensation at the time. But not taken seriously by the psychic research institute. It was only 70 years later that it was discovered that there was a Chinese style kiosk at the Trianon in 1774 – but it had long been gone, how could the ladies have known of it’s existence…  


Janine: Napoleon Bonaparte is said to have believed in ghosts. He apparently regularly saw an apparition known as The Red Man who is said to have appeared to him at his Coronation and also to advise him against invading Russia and then again on the Eve of the Battle of Waterloo. The Red Man is said to have long haunted the Tuileries in Paris. One legend says that he was a henchman known as Jean the Skinner to commit murders for Catherine de Medici and to hide her secrets she had him killed. It was claimed he appeared to many of France’s ruling elite including Catherine de Medici, Henri IV, Louis XIV and Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette at critical moments of their lives, typically just before something horrible was about to happen to them, particularly their death.
 Oli: Hmm, funny how he never appeared to ordinary people – only VIPs! He must have had the keys to their rooms – spook-keys…  spook keys? 

Ghostly wailing 

Janine: Ok you win the worst joke of the episode prize. But I’m going to tell one last ghost story – and it’s my favourite – about the Phantom of the Opera. A fictional novel by Gaston Leroux told of strange things taking place beneath the foundations of the Opera Garnier. The book featured a vast underground lake with many tunnels leading from it. Unbeknown to Leroux at the time, the reality is that the Opera house is built on top of a vast water tank that still to this day, mysteriously, cannot be drained. It’s said that the firefighters of Paris use it to practice swimming in the dark…

Oli: Hmm I am not sure that is true – but yes it’s a good story! What a journey we've had! While these stories might send shivers down our spines, and be a little hard to believe maybe, they connect us to a rich tapestry of French history and folklore. 

But now it’s time for a listener’s question.
 Oli: In every episode we answer a question sent to us. Some are quite fun and some are sensible! So Janine, what is today’s question

Janine: Today’s question is from Sally Broad from the UK and she asks “is it true that it is the law in France that all households must keep a bale of hay available in case the King of France passes by on his horse which may be hungry?”

Well Sally if it is true it would have to be the ghost of the King of France that’s for sure! But Oli – over to you.  True or false. It is the law in France to keep a bale of hay available for the King of France’s horse. 

Oli: Well actually Sally I think it is true! No not really I’m kidding. This is one of those urban myths (or countryside myths rather). It may have been a very old law long ago. But the last time I looked there was no royal family in France, therefore no king with a horse needing hay and I don’t think the president of France goes anywhere by horse so… if you are thinking of moving to France to live, you don’t need to worry about having a bale of hay ready!

 Thanks so much for this question, Sally. If you also have a question for us – you know what to do : send it to or via our podcast newsletter.

And a big thank you to everyone for tuning in to our podcast – we have listeners from all around the world! And a massive thank you for sharing it with your friends and family.


You’ve been listening to Janine Marsh and me Olivier Jauffrit. You can find me at 


Janine: And you can find me  and heaps of information about France – where to visit, culture, history, recipes – everything France - at where you can subscribe to the podcast, my weekly newsletter about France and our totally brilliant, totally free magazine at 

But for now, it’s au revoir from me.

Olivier: And goodbye from me.

Janine: Speak to you soon! 

Halloween in France
Q&A Section